The love affair between America’s presidents and America’s pastime began with our country’s first president, George Washington, who would play rounders at Valley Forge. The love affair has only grown stronger in the two centuries since as Presidents have played and cheered for baseball. In 1910, President William Howard Taft began the annual tradition of the President throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season. Through wars and economic depressions, Presidents have gone to the ballpark to reassure the country. Baseball has influenced the American presidency by providing a fun and cherished annual tradition, an opportunity for Presidents to connect with their fellow citizens, and a venue to send messages of strength and American values to the world.
George W. Bush once said, “I never dreamed about being President. I wanted to be Willie Mays.” That love of baseball has been a constant in his life. When asked about his favorite boyhood memory, he replied that it was “playing Little League baseball in Midland.” Like his father and grandfather, President Bush played baseball at Yale University. In 1989, he was part of a group of investors that purchased the Texas Rangers Baseball Club. As managing general partner, President Bush was instrumental in securing funding for the team’s new home, The Ballpark in Arlington.
Every year of his administration, President Bush brought tee ball to the South Lawn of the White House in recognition of its importance in fostering teamwork among America’s youth. In 2007, President Bush recognized the 60 year anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball by hosting a commemorative game on the South Lawn and retiring Robinson’s #42 at the White House field.
President Bush hosted the living National Baseball Hall of Famers at the White House in 2001 and 2004. He expressed that it was one of his favorite White House events, saying, “It's kind of like having your baseball card collection spread out in real life.” President Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the President can bestow, to three former baseball players: Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Buck O’Neil.
President Bush carried on the tradition of throwing out the first pitch of the baseball season. The most impactful first pitch of the Bush Administration happened at the end of a season rather than the beginning. On October 30, 2001, only a few weeks after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th, President Bush traveled to New York City and threw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series at Yankee Stadium. His attendance at the game, just miles away from Ground Zero, symbolized the strength of the United States and encouraged healing in New York and throughout the nation. His pitch to Yankees catcher Todd Greene was a perfect strike.